November 16, 2008

Bellingham's Noble Street Kids: The Blue Heaps

Northumberland Farming History - a village childhood remembered.

By Clive Dalton

The Blue Heaps from the Woodburn road, the blue shale now covered in grass

Over the Woodburn road were the Blue Heaps which had a special significance in our imaginary world and a mystery all of their own. We imagined them as all sorts of things – mountains to climb, forts to defend, slopes to slide down on a bit of cardboard, and a place to fill a match box with tiny circular fossils sea creatures brought up with the blue shale to extract the iron ore.

This shale was moved up on a wagonway, still visible, on trolleys and tipped to make massive heaps. It must have been a mammoth task using horse power to pull the wagons. It’s amazing how men were able to pile the heaps so high.
I am walking up the old wagonway towards the Blue Heaps

They were also had the wartime lookout of Royal Observer Corps. When we went there we never knew if any of the Corps like George Batey or Percy Bolam were on daytime duty, watching for enemy planes or the German paratroopers to come and disturb “wor play”.

During the week, the Observers were mainly on duty at night and we used to watch see walking up the Woodburn road to the Blue Heaps after they had finished their day’s work, with their gasmasks and bait bags. It was at the weekends that they were a hazard to us kids as they did day duty then.

We used the fell to fight many battles with the Germans. The main problem we had was that nobody wanted to be “the Germans”, we all wanted to be the English. We had a wonderful range of toy weapons made from assorted bits of wood. And we were adept at all the drill moves – and bayonet practice.

If “the Garmans” had ever arrived, we kids would have rushed heme te get wor toy guns oot and fix wor wooden bayonets to defend Noble Street. The chances are that we could have put up as good a show as the Home Guard – though you didn’t hear me say that. At least you wouldn’t have had to marshal us and call a meeting in the snug at the Fox & Hounds to dole out the ammunition!

My father was a sergeant in the Home Guard and his .303 rifle (which I could hardly lift) with no ammunition was upstairs in the corner of the bedroom next to the bag of Spillers flour mother kept all during the war incase we were besieged. Dad had survived the four years of 1914-18 war, so a .303 with fixed bayonet was as familiar as his garden push hoe.

We never did eat any of that flour; by the end of the war the weevils and meal moths had taken over to such an extent that it was unusable. Hitler’s paratroopers were lucky they didn’t come – as they could have been bombarded with Spillers flour bombs.

Photo: Harry Dalton in his Noble Street garden (c1948). Noble street in the background.

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